Compulsive Hoarding Disorder

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Compulsive hoarding disorder and the homeThere are many people today that are living in cluttered conditions in their home; they have crossed the line and become a pack rat. These homes are easily identifiable because when you walk into a home, there are usually many piles of stuff throughout the home. Piles of stuff varies from person to person, however, most of it is consists of items that can be thrown away or stored elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to hold on to sentimental items, but when it begins having a negative impact on your life it becomes what we now know as Compulsive Hoarding Disorder.

Many people with Compulsive Hoarding Disorder have piles of mail that have accumulated over the weeks and months, and by now, there is probably no relevance to the correspondence. Other people have piles of magazines or books that either have been read, or never will be read. Compact discs can be considered clutter when they are just piled in a corner and never really used. However, in addition to this type of clutter, there is also other clutter that accumulates over time and before a person realizes, they are living in an environment that is chaotic and unorganized.

Unfortunately, for many people the issue of clutter goes far beneath the stuff and deals with a much deeper issue of security and an inability to let go. There are reasons behind this, and the best way to de-clutter a home is to uncover the reason behind the inability to let go.

There is a significant difference between sentimental items and clutter, and sometimes, things that are sentimental cross over and become clutter. For those with Compulsive Hoarding Disorder it becomes hard to differentiate. For example, if you pack away boxes of stuff and refer to it as sentimental childhood memories, you most likely will forget that it was there. If things are packed away in a box and never taken out, perhaps they are not all that sentimental. Now, that is not to say get rid of everything, but think through why you are saving the item and what purposes it is serving. Regardless of the object that is being held onto and treasured in storage, the memories surrounding the object cannot be taken away simply because you discard the clutter.

Many people keep things in their home that are attached to bad memories. People hang onto things if it had some significance in their life, even though the larger association is negative. This is negative clutter and should be let go.

Remind yourself that you cannot take stuff with you and if it is consuming your life, then a clutter control effort should be embraced. Determine what is really sentimental to you and why as well as how much sentimentality do you have in clutter from the same experience. In addition, if it is clutter, but you like it, perhaps take a photo of it and then discard the clutter.

Clutter often equates to chaos, and nobody wants to live a chaotic lifestyle. If you are finding that you are a pack rat, then it is time to take steps to change and de-clutter your life.

Compulsive Hoarding Disorder and Stress

Compulsive hoarding disorder and stressStudies have found that clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, thereby causing stress. Stress is associated with higher cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in order to help the body combat with stress. This increase in cortisol helps you to cope during a period of emergency by giving you the ability to focus while preparing the body for flight if necessary.

The constant stress offered due to the clutter around you, however, puts your body into a constant state of alert. This means your cortisol production and cortisol levels are permanently higher than normal. The result is the inhibition of normal hormone production as well as other bodily functions, your immune system included. The result is a host of Adrenal Fatigue associated symptoms that vary, such as high (bad) cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, anxiety, depression, hormonal imbalance, hair loss, skin problems (e.g. dry skin or acne), etc.

Removing the Clutter to Remove the Stress

Today’s society is constantly stressed due to their work, the cities they live in, and personal clutter. It is easiest to start your stress management by starting with something small and building up from there.

  • Your work space – Consider simplifying your laptop by getting rid of unwanted or unneeded files, etc. Also, clear your desk’s surface and bring order to the drawers. Get rid of anything not needed.
  • The home – Try simplifying things. Identify and declutter one room at a time, then move on to the next. Remember to include cupboards and drawers while you are at it.
  • Your life – Think about how you can change your routine to make things simpler. At the same time, reduce the number of your commitments in order to make ‘me’ time. Take a look at your commitments and see which are necessary and which can be delegated.

© Copyright 2013 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Compulsive hoarding disorder and stress